Sports Graphics Forum: ESPN, Troika Team to Bring ‘Fanitude’ to ESPN’s College Basketball Coverage

Like the blustery winter weather that greeted attendees to SVG’s Sports Graphics Forum on March 7, the beginning of March ushers in the madness that is the college basketball postseason. To match the intensity that comes from the both the players on the court as well as the rowdy students in the crowd, the graphics team at ESPN, along with their partners at Troika, presented a case study on how the network’s new graphics package captures the “fanitude” that encapsulates college basketball.

“It is our biggest production at ESPN, hands down. College football is a close second,” said Timothy O’Shaughnessy, creative director at ESPN. “Ultimately, we wanted to make something that may be the biggest production in sports television.”

According to Trokia’s Executive Creative Director Gil Haslam, the concept that the two teams came up with was ‘fanitude’, the energy that comes from the players, fans, and TV personalities of college basketball.

“What we needed to do is focus on the uniqueness of college basketball; it is the richest fabric of passion and color,” Haslam said. “We have an embarrassment of riches of things to pull from — everything from handwritten signs to mascots to colors — the things that the fans are truly most passionate about. So what we came up with for a concept was ‘fanitude’. We really wanted to be able to push the attitude, the spirit, the passion, the tribalism.”

Michael Arcangeli, Troika’s art director, said that the when the design team at Troika was starting to come up with ideas for the different graphic elements, they wanted to see what they think they, both fans as well as designers, would see, so they went with hand-written fonts and giant head cutouts.  

“We really came at it from an emotional point of view,” said Arcangeli. “We tried to imagine if we were fans in the stands, but designers, how would we make this look. We took inspiration from what’s in the crowd and we looked at those fan-made signs and said, ‘how can we bring that to life in a new way here?’”

Using fan signs and the giant heads that permeate crowds through the college basketball landscape, the two teams collaborated to come up with ideas that they felt brought back something that was missing from current sports graphics.

“Our creative north star was the keyword ‘fun’,” Archangeli said. “We were showing some of the stuff to some of the senior people and someone made a really good point about how sports graphics don’t really feel fun anymore. Sometimes we take things to serious, and we felt that this was a pretty good space to get a little crazy.”

Echoing the statement about bringing fun to these new graphics was O’Shaughnessy.

“The question that we would ask ourselves as we were designing is, ‘is this element as fun as it could be?’,” O’Shaughnessy said. “It was definitely a guiding principle for how we moved forward in design.”

With fun in mind, the two-headed team started to create a workflow that swirled together elements of traditional cell animation with more modern 2D and 3D technology, they also took the big head concept and turned them into stickers, giving them more of a playful element.

“A lot of it was about finding new ways to represent the players using photography, trying fuse the spirit and emotion in it and the passion that exists in college sports,” O’Shaughnessy said.

For the illustrated language, the design team looked to fan signs for inspiration, according to O’Shaughnessy.

“This was about really representing the fan,” he said. “How we get that look that’s out in the stands but taken through our design perspective so doing hand-drawn type pattern and cell accents to really bring this frenzied look along.”

Arcangeli added: “We wanted a font that we felt that really captured the fan-illustrated sign out in the stands. So we created our own custom font — we created an animated version of it as well — and, to take it a step further, we said, well, there are certain phrases and language around the game that already exist to create signature illustrations for. Some of it was kind of generic basketball language; others, we started to look at Dick Vitale — he has so many sayings, so we felt that we could use those in new ways, combining them with player photography to create new elements.” 

These new animations, which were dubbed ‘moment transitions’, were meant to replace the standard, generic transition graphics usually seen during games.

“We’d called them moment transitions, so instead of a generic team logo transition or replay wipe, we thought if we know certain players for a certain type of play like dunking or a three-pointer, we could create something that was actually cued up so that if that play happened with him, we’d could actually trigger that signature transition and be very responsive to the action going on within the game,” Arcangeli said.

All of these idea led to the two teams coming up with a graphics concept that was both outside-the-box and in line with the concept of ‘fanitude’ which is a goal that both teams felt that they accomplished.

“The creative process was a little unorthodox on this one,” according to ESPN Senior Concept Designer Dale Harney“It allowed us to play off of each others ideas and almost function like one creative group. It gave us each ownership of the project and it led to the fun part of creative, which was coming up with the ideas, some of them being the sneaker machine, basketball factory and flaming basketballs.”

Arcangeli added: “It was also great presenting creative from the Troika team, because they would always have stuff to show as well and never really know what they are working on and they will just show us something and we’ll be like ‘that’s awesome’ and it inspired us to go into new directions as well. It was a really fun partnership in that respect.” 

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